The Essential James Bond

By Duane Bergeron 

 

For over 50 years, the name has been Bond....James Bond. This franchise has thrilled and entertained audiences worldwide in ways few motion picture properties has been able to do. This is not just a retrospective but a basic analysis of what the British superspy has accomplished in the past five decades. 

The renewed interest in Bond came about due to the success of Spectre. This 24th installment is one of the major hits in the Christmas film season of 2015. To date, Spectre has grossed over $191 million domestically and $691 million worldwide. What has enabled Bond to endure was "modernizing" the character. Though the results are impressive, history's most successful chapter in this series is Skyfall. Released in 2012, Skyfall earned over $304 million in North America and over a billion all over the planet. Needless to say, the box office returns will make sure there are future stories to be released. 

But, the legend of Bond goes far beyond just box office revenues. For something that has endured this long, there is much more than recent accolades. Bond was arguably the first cinematic franchise to bring spectacle and large-scale to audiences everywhere. His adventures pushed the level of special effects to the limit long before Star Wars showed up. There is more to be touched upon. This will cover as much as possible how James Bond created legions of fans far in advance of the fanbases attached to the blockbuster film properties of the present day.


From the Novels...

Originally a literary creation of British author Ian Fleming, Bond was the hero of several novels that have been transformed into on-screen success stories. Bond is an agent of the British Secret Service, also referred to as MI-6. He and several agents belong to the "00" class, meaning they are the best of the best in the agency. His designation is 007. Also, each 00 agent is given by MI-6 a "license to kill." For those who have not figured it out yet, it simply means Bond and his fellow agents do not have to deal with rules on whether to use deadly force or not in the act of self defense. If threatened an agent can shoot and ask questions later. It helps to make judgment calls like that much easier. He is supervised by M, his "control," and aided by Q, the agency head of weapons and scientific development. Obviously, that is where the gadgets came from. Bond does not have a personal life per se but has his moments with the flirtatious Miss Moneypenny, M's secretary. 

Interestingly enough, the very concept of the license to kill just mentioned was used as the basis for the 1989 feature with the same name. It was the second and last movie to feature Timothy Dalton. It was also one of the weakest chapters in the Bond continuity. Dalton's first outing was 1987's The Living Daylights. It was better than its follow-up. After License to Kill, there were no 007 features until 1995 with Golden Eye, the first appearance of Pierce Brosnan. The actor would do three more culminating with Die Another Day in 2002. Some have considered Brosnan the best of the modern Bonds and gave the role a treatment which has been considered favorably with Connery.


To the First Movie

The first appearance of James Bond theatrically was in 1962's Doctor No. It was the 007 debut of actor Sean Connery, who was unknown at the time. After the film's release that changed fast. The results were immediate and far reaching. Doctor No was influential in not only setting the tone for what was to come, it even established a "spy" fad that lasted the bulk of the 1960s. The fad came up with parodies, and a lot of imitations such as Dean Martin's Matt Helm series. Parodies included television knockoffs like Get Smart. Connery's interpretation of the character was so on-target and riveting many fans still consider Connery the best actor to play the part. His successors have had varied degrees of success in being the cinematic Bond but Connery defined the character and that is what those who came later had to compete with. Connery illustrated in an extremely impressive performance the sum and substance of who and what Bond is.


And Here's the Formula That Makes It All Work

The concept was also made popular due to some unique conventions that were concocted during the Connery era. The bulk of them are still in use present day. They are:

1. The Bond Girl

Ever since Ursula Andres showed up in that white bikini when appearing next to Connery in Doctor No, many actresses have come and gone playing the lead female character. Ranging from becoming a love interest to being some kind of professional ally on a mission, the actresses who had that distinction belong to an elite sorority. Over time, they have taxed the imaginations of male viewers and motivated female viewers to wish they could be like them. Many actresses would audition for the female lead when casting was taking place knowing such a role is a major boost for their careers. Yet, some of those who were a Bond girl have disappeared and never appeared on-camera again. It's true fame can be fleeting.

Poor Tanya Roberts.

Poor Tanya Roberts.

2. The Bond Gadgets
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This has been around ever since the second feature, From Russia With Love in 1963. The late Desmond Llewelyn played Q with such relish. He performed the role for every Bond film since his last appearance, which was in The World Is Not Enough in 1999. Llewelyn was not cast as Q in Live and Let Die in 1973. And of course, he started with the gizmos in From Russia With Love. The gadgetry kept up with technology as time went on. Whether it was the Aston-Martin which was armed like a tank or a watch that had several handy features Q kept Bond armed with the best field equipment his department could produce. Llewelyn also was such a superb actor he was able to trade zingers and other remarks with the Bond character effortlessly which each one that came and went.

3. The Bond Villain

Far too many to list here but the villains who comprise the 007 rogue's gallery have run the gamut from would-be world conquerors to corporate megalomaniacs. And here and there were a few fellow spies from opponents like Russia during the Cold War.

4. The Bond Theme

Each film starting with Doctor No onward have had a pop music superstar perform the opening theme in the main titles. Artists like Adele, Madonna, Carly Simon, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner and others have warbled the song over time. And yes, many of those themes were released as commercial singles. Spectre's them was performed by British singer Sam Smith. Here is some trivia. Who performed the only Bond theme that made it to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart? It was Duran Duran with A View to A Kill in 1985.

5. This Was a Boon For Audiences Over the Years

Many of the installments were shot on location in places many people would never see in their lifetimes. From large cities in Europe, the Americas, and Asia, the features were combined like a travelogue. Some location shots were also in remote areas as well. Viewing all 24 movies to this point enables viewers to have seen a great deal of the planet by now.

6. The Production Values
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Before modern day blockbusters, action scenes were choreographed, produced and executed far and beyond anything else in the early years. No other franchise had put action sequences on the screen with such spectacle and superlative results. For many scenes, some of the largest soundstages ever constructed were used for those shots. They were, obviously, built in Great Britain.


In Conclusion

Connery had decided to call it quits with the character in You Only Live Twice in 1967. His popularity and acting talent showed he was capable of making it on his own and not be stereotyped as 007. However, the biggest debacle in history for the very capable spy was the casting of George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969. Lazenby just could not perform as Bond and the storyline went against Fleming's concept since 007 got married and wound up seeing his wife killed at the end of the film. Connery agreed to do it one more time in Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. He got a nice paycheck for that. Afterwards, Connery announced he was through. Permanently. However, this event also was the motivation for naming the parallel Bond feature Connery starred in when Never Say Never Again premiered in 1983. It was basically a reworking of Thunderball from 1965.

Roger Moore became the successor to Connery in 1973. His introduction came with Live and Let Die. It also featured the successful theme song with former Beatle Paul McCartney. Moore has developed his own fan following in much the same way Connery did. Moore also holds the record for the most appearances as the character. It's seven. Moore had his own take with the role along with a more versatile interpretation of Bond's propensity to fire off barbs, zingers and one-liners. Moore's stewardship of the property covered the remainder of the 1970s and virtually the entire 1980s. With Moore the special effects quality improved and kept Bond vital and relevant during his seven film run. Among Moore's efforts were The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981) and the previously mentioned A View to A Kill, which was his swan song with the franchise. 

After Dalton and Brosnan, current Bond actor Daniel Craig took over with Casino Royale (2006). What is interesting about this movie is though it comes from one of Fleming's novels, it was never brought into the Bond continuity until a decade ago. It previously was made in the 1960s, but it was done from the perspective of being a comedy spoof with David Niven in the lead. Though Craig's on-screen performance is an update of Bond with present day characteristics the plots have been made from the viewpoint of being prequels of a sort. Though set in the modern day, Casino Royale showed Bond being promoted to the 00 level. In the new movie Spectre, it depicts Bond's first encounter with Ernst Stavros Blofeld. However, Bond and Blofeld locked horns so to speak in several of the Connery adventures. In Craig's productions, there has been more emphasis on the "M" character thanks to Judi Dench and less reliance on the gadgetry. 

It still remains to be seen if Craig will continue with the character or is ready to turn in the keys to the Aston Martin. However, despite all the changes and evolution over time, Bond is still a powerful force in the film industry. As long as the suave 007 can stay relevant, audiences will return to view future missions of the most legendary secret agent in MI-6 history. With James Bond having been around for over 50 years, chances are he will be around for another 50 and perhaps more than that.


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